Updated: The introduction to this story has been updated to emphasize the effectiveness of vaccines and mask-wearing. Additionally, in light of recent comments on this article that include nonfactual information about vaccines and COVID-19, commenting has been disabled.
There’s medical consensus that the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as wearing a mask, are proven ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the national teachers’ unions, among many other groups, are urging teachers to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Some states and districts are now mandating vaccinations for school staff.
So far, nearly 90 percent of teachers across the country have been vaccinated, according to a recent EdWeek Research Center survey. Davis Eidahl is among those who have not. Eidahl teaches biology and anatomy, and coaches cross-country, girls’ basketball and track, at Pekin High School in rural Iowa. At age 80, he’s starting his 58th year of teaching.
Iowa doesn’t allow districts to require masks, so face-covering will be up to students and staff when they return in-person next week. Eidahl lives and works in a county considered to have a high risk of transmission, and only 45 percent of those eligible for vaccines have gotten them, according to the CDC. Eidahl plans to wear a mask occasionally in the classroom, and regularly in assemblies and other large-scale gatherings. He doesn’t plan to get a COVID vaccine.
Eidahl told his story to Catherine Gewertz, senior contributing writer. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
We’re in central Iowa, right out in the middle of a cornfield. Our district has about 750, 800 students altogether, from about three or four counties.
We ended the school year last year with no masks. As of right now, all students will be coming back. There is no mask requirement as yet. The district did say anybody that wants to wear one is welcome to. There could be a few students on a virtual program. But most will come back.
On the vaccines, I have not had them. I’ve had a few vaccines, way back. Didn’t have real good results. I went through the whole school year and I got along real well. I think in Pekin there are probably 15 or 16 teachers [in our district] who didn’t get the vaccine, out of about 50, 55. If they want to get them, I think that’s great. All the power to them. I think it’s just an individual decision. I’ve heard good things [about the vaccine], I’ve heard some bad things and, I’ve stayed pretty healthy. I just don’t want to get it.
Last year in our classes, we had plexiglass shields between the desks and the kids were supposed to say six feet apart. When they got out in the halls, it was kind of tough. When the students were in class sitting six feet or less apart, they were all in masks. I wore a mask too, all but the last nine weeks of school.
This year I probably won’t, unless things get bad here, as far as the number of cases. If we go into a crowded area, like a big assembly where there’s parents, I will put on a mask. In classrooms, we have the long tables and [seat students] every other one. If they’re closer than six feet or right there at the same table, they put a mask on, and when they’re scattered out, they don’t have to wear one. I try to stay six feet away, but when I’m one-on-one, real close, I do [put a mask on].
I’ve had no criticism [about my mask and vaccine choices]. Everybody here just does their own thing, and there’s really no push either way. Even when we have our professional development, we spread out, and when they come in, some have a mask, some don’t. I can’t tell you names of the ones that have been vaccinated. I don’t think anyone really knows.
I have thought about [getting the vaccine]. I might change my mind. I don’t know. But I don’t worry about getting sick. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I try to run each day, stay healthy, eat good.
Especially last fall and early winter, we had a lot of people quarantined, but most of the people, I’m guessing 90 to 95 percent, that were quarantined was because of adults, not student to student [exposure]. In our building, a couple of our secretaries, and about eight or nine teachers [got sick], and several of the elementary teachers were quarantined, a lot of them had it. Everyone recovered. We’re fortunate there.
In my family [some want the vaccine and others don’t]. I have a couple of superintendents, a person that works at the rec center, and a school nurse. I kind of follow along what my daughter says. She’s a school nurse at a high school, just to the south of us. She doesn’t believe in it.
Knock on wood, I’ve gotten along real well, being healthy and so forth. And maybe [not wanting to get the vaccine] stems way back from when I was in high school, a big epidemic was the Asiatic flu. We had to get flu shots, and we all got sick.
I don’t think about [infecting my students with COVID]. I just don’t think that’ll happen. I don’t think about it because I’m usually pretty safe around them. We disinfect the desks, use hand sanitizers, and masks. We’ve been pretty faithful, and the kids are pretty good at that. And staying apart. That’s worked real well for our setting.
A version of this article appeared in the August 25, 2021 edition of Education Week